Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yatkin's "Wallstories": dancing to freedom

There's a moment, late in the hour, when Wallstories--a Fringe Festival multimedia work presented by Nejla Y. Yatkin's NY2Dance--takes flight. Prior to this point, the production seems an earnest, generically energetic ensemble based in thoughts about the Berlin Wall and the eventual passing of the Cold War era.

Opening with a blaring voice-over and a very narrow horizontal strip of film imagery of workers laying bricks, the dance employs a multicultural cadre of performers in short, rumpled raincoats who repeatedly bunch together and collapse one moment and, at another, make big, jazzy gestures like a Broadway chorus line of mimes. Their dancing, set to music by Bach and Pink Floyd, runs from lunges, stretches, dashes and collisions that give an impression of restlessness and inevitable release to sharply-rendered solos that convey the essence of an individual's recollections and emotions. Occasionally--as in the sixth section, "Dorothea's ?uestions," set to Pink Floyd's "Blue Sky"--the movement achieves a rapturous flow.

Yatkin's fifth section--superfluously titled "The Government, Mother Russia, my Mother, your Mother"--feels like the first clear evidence that Wallstories aims to operate on a level of psychological and universal insight beyond its aesthetic and historical concerns. But it isn't until one of the final sections, when Yatkin suddenly rises from her front-row audience seat to move in sync with one of her dancers, that the work comes home. As a member of the audience, she stands on the cusp between us and the dancers, bridging temporal, physical, emotional and psychological divides. She visually identifies herself, finally, as the heart of this piece.

A Berlin native of Turkish-Egyptian descent, now living and working in the States, Yatkin is a tall, sinewy, strong-featured wonder, a gifted dancer's dancer whose every performance is living sculpture. Watching her move last evening offered the thrill and, simultaneously, the poignancy that Wallstories had previously withheld despite the admirable effort of its other hard-working performers. It located Wallstories squarely in Yatkin's body and in her experience as a descendant of immigrants, and that touched off connections to issues roiling Western Europe in the present day.

A joyous coda brings the evening to a close, but Yatkin's presence brought it to its height.

Performed by Ahmaud Culver, Shay Bates, Sevin Ceviker, Rachel Holmes, Fadi Khoury, Karina Lesko, Marissa Maislen, Derek Crescenti, Nejla Y. Yatkin and Ehizoje Azeke

Lighting: Caroyn Wong

Video Design: Michael K. Rogers and Nejla Y. Yatkin

Photography: Nejla Y. Yatkin

Text: Nejla Y. Yatkin, with original interviews with Germans from the East and West

Wallstories is a presentation of the New York International Fringe Festival and runs through Sunday, August 28 at Dixon Place. For specific schedule details and ticketing, click here.

Dixon Place
161A Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey), Manhattan
(directions)

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